By Corey J. Corbin
Allied News Sports Correspondent
MERCER COUNTY AREA —
MERCER – Aaron Cook and his Lady M’s have been looking for a signature victory for a little over 365 days.
Tuesday evening, they finally got it when Class AA Mercer held Class AAA Grove City (2-1) to just six points in the second half to secure a 49-27 victory at Mercer High School.
“Since I’ve taken over the program, that’s probably our biggest win,” Cook said. “We’ve been talking about a signature win. We’ve been beating the teams we should and have been getting close with the other teams. This will give us the confidence to move on.”
With the win, the Lady M’s (2-1) have come full circle from a demoralizing 60-29 loss to the very same Lady Eagles almost a year ago.
“Our experience is starting to come full circle,” Cook said. “We had a tremendous offseason. I don’t know if the girls had an offseason like this. We played a lot of games and played in a lot of tournaments.”
Grove City and Mercer traded punches throughout the first half with GC taking a 21-20 lead into the second half. Neither team led by more than 5 points in the first 16 minutes.
“Out of their 21 points in the first half,” Cook said. “I’d say 15 of them were off second and third opportunities, because we weren’t boxing out. I don’t think they got a second opportunity in the second half, which was huge.”
But from that point on, it was all Lexie Arkwright. The Mercer junior scored 20 of her game-high 27 points in the second half and knocked down 6-of-7 from the field during the span.
“She was absolutely unconscious,” Cook said. “She deserves it. She puts in the time. She can do that. The big thing I see that is different with her this year is -- not to jinx myself here -- she’s making her free throws. At the Mohawk tournament, she made 13-of-15. That’s big.”
What was also ‘big’ for the Lady M’s was the free throw shooting down the stretch – an area Cook said his players have struggled at in the past. Mercer made 8-of-10 freebies in the final quarter, including the final 8 they attempted.
“We were 8 for 10 from the foul line (down the stretch),” Coach Cook said. “That was huge. We’ve been trying to replicate the fourth quarter by running a lot of sprints in practice then shooting free throws when they’re tired.”
Grove City, on the other hand, struggled mightily all evening from the field. The Lady Eagles made just 11-of-43 field goal attempts (25.6 percent), including a 1-of-22 clip from the field.
“We created that score by having to press (offensively) late in the fourth quarter,” Grove City coach Mike Hostetler said. “They ran the 1-3-1 coming out of halftime. I thought we attacked it well and got lay-ups, but we just didn’t convert them. We‘re not a big three-point shooting team, so it’s hard for us to make up (big deficits).
“They played good defense. They were playing a sagging man. They were trying to take away some inside stuff and trying to make us shoot from the perimeter. Their defense made us struggle a little bit.”
Cook admitted to noticing the Lady Eagles weren’t hitting their outside shots in the first half and changing his defensive philosophy for the second half, which caused all kinds of problems for Grove City.
“We held them to six points in the second half, which is just unbelievable,” Cook said. “I never would have thought we could do that. We noticed they weren’t making many long distance shots. We were getting a hand in their face. They, like most teams, are bigger than us, so we packed in the middle. I changed defenses. There were three or four times when it looked like they were getting close to solving it and I changed it again. They couldn’t adapt.”
Mercer, on the other hand, had no problems adapting to what Grove City was throwing at them. The Lady M’s connected on 17-of-32 shots from the field, including 7-of-14 from downtown.
“They shot the ball real well,” Hostetler said. “They shot their three’s well. Those are backbreakers. They shot their foul shots well and that put us in a hole. They ran their offense and they got their shots. They played a great game tonight.
“Our goal defensively is to hold teams to under 40 points. We think we should have a shot to win those games. You’re not going to win many games when you’re scoring 26 points, because you aren’t going to hold many teams to (less than that).”
Aside from Arkwright’s 27 points, the Lady M’s got 9 points from Adelyn Cook and 7 from Megan McKinney. Meanwhile, Alexis Mills contributed 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, while Analise Whenry added 3 rebounds and 2 steals.
“There were 8 to 10 girls that contributed tonight,” Coach Cook said. “Obviously, Arkwright was unconscious tonight. It was good to see Adelyn get her shot back and make some three’s. From McKinney right down the bench, we rotated real well around them.”
NOTES: Corianne Hyduchak led GC with 9 point and 7 rebounds, while Hailey Hall tacked on 8 points, 5 rebounds and a block. … Jordyn Wyllie pulled down 5 rebounds. …The Lady Eagles had 15 turnovers to Mercer’s 18. … Grove City outrebounded Mercer 33-28. … GC made just 4-of-11 shots from the charity stripe and 1-of-11 from behind the three-point line.